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What is Louis Pasteur famous for?
- establishing germ theory
- inventing pasteurisation – the heating of liquids to kill germs
- the idea of immunisation – injecting a weakened form of disease
- curing rabies
"Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind."
- Louis Pasteur
The French chemist, Louis Pasteur, rose from humble beginnings to world fame in the course of his lifetime. NowYouKnowAbout Scientists brings your children Louis Pasteur’s life story in DVD format as an easy introduction to great historical figures, especially made for young children.
Louis Pasteur was born in Dole, in France in 1822. His family were not scientists and doctors. His father was a tanner and his mother, the daughter of a gardener. Like Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton (two of the other scientists featured in this entertaining and educational DVD for children) young Louis Pasteur wasn’t very interested or even very good at schoolwork, preferring to spend his time fishing and painting.
However, he did have lots of questions he wanted answers to: what caused the disease called rabies that made dogs mad and foam at the mouth? Why was his sister always weak and coughing? Why couldn’t the doctors find a cure? Louis’ teacher at school saw that he had a curious mind and encouraged him to study hard. Thanks to his determination and commitment, Louis won a place at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, the leading science school in Paris.
Determination and tenacity were key aspects of Pasteur’s character. Indeed to be successful as a scientist in his field, he had to be patient, observant, thorough and of course, determined enough never to give up. His most celebrated quote:
Chance favors only the prepared mind
shows us how importantly he regarded meticulous planning and groundwork in his breakthroughs and discoveries. He was a strict Catholic and a man of great self-discipline and control and this rigorousness contributed greatly to his success.
At the age of 30, Pasteur went to teach chemistry at Strasbourg University. There he met his future wife, Marie, the daughter of the rector and they went on to have 5 children. Marie was a devoted and loyal wife, helping him with his research and writing up his notes.
Louis Pasteur was not a man to hide away in his laboratory. He liked to apply his scientific theories to the world outside and to help people find solutions to problems. Some of France’s greatest industries - the silk industry and wine production, benefited from his attention. The winemakers complained that their wine went sour. Why? Pasteur investigated and found microbes in the wine that spoiled it. After many experiments, Pasteur suggested a gentle heating which discouraged undesirable microbes without changing the taste. This technique is today called ‘pasteurisation’ and is regularly applied to all kinds of drinks, especially milk.
Visiting his son in hospital allowed Pasteur to see first-hand the dirty and dreadful conditions there. He fought to convince surgeons that germs existed and carried diseases, and dirty instruments and hands spread germs and therefore disease. During his life Pasteur found it difficult to convince others of his ideas which were considered controversial then, but are proven absolutely correct today.
Not being a doctor, Louis Pasteur was restricted to animals in his experiments with diseases. He found the cure for chicken cholera by discovering that weak forms of disease could be used as an immunization against stronger forms. Edward Jenner before him had laid much of the groundwork for immunisation. Pasteur established that rabies was transmitted by viruses too small to be seen under the microscopes of the time, introducing the medical world to the concept of viruses.
He showed great courage in the case of Joseph Meister, the small boy brought to Pasteur by his desperate mother. Joseph had been bitten by a wild dog and his mother, having read about Pasteur’s experiments with a rabies vaccine, came to him and begged him to save her son’s life. Pasteur knew that it was strictly forbidden to try out an unproved vaccine, especially on a child. But he did so, knowing that if he did not, the boy was certain to die. After vaccinating Joseph over several days with his trial rabies vaccine, Joseph got better. This was a great moment and heralded the beginning of widespread vaccination to cure and prevent disease.
By the end of his life, Pasteur was a celebrated figure in France and around the world. The Pasteur Institute was opened in 1888 to continue research into germs and disease. Louis Pasteur died in 1895 at the age of 73 leaving a world-changing legacy that we still remember today.
Apart from pasteurisation, we can also thank Pasteur for establishing his germ theory, which explained that diseases were caused by microorganisms we cannot see, rather than being spontaneously generated, as was previously thought.